DOES KANSAS RECOGNIZE THE INTENTIONAL SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE AS AN OFFENSE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Koplin v. Rosel Well Perforators, Inc., 734 P.2d 1177 (Kan. 1987).
THIS CASE ADDRESSES THE FOLLOWING ISSUE:
Does Kansas recognize the intentional spoliation of evidence as an offense?
This case explored the issue of whether Kansas recognized the intentional spoliation of evidence as an offense. In this case, intentional spoliation of evidence included destroying evidence relevant to the case. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that absent some independent civil offense, contract agreement, voluntary assumption of duty, or special relation of the parties, the new offense of “intentional interference with a prospective civil action by spoliation of evidence” (AKA intentional destruction of evidence) would not be recognized in Kansas. Id. at 1183.
This case arose out of injuries suffered by the plaintiff employee in an on-the-job accident. The defendant in the case was the plaintiff’s employer. Id. at 1178. The accident occurred when a piece of equipment called a T-clamp failed due to an alleged defect. Id. As a result of the accident, the defendant intentionally destroyed the T-clamp so that the plaintiff would no longer have access to it for purposes of potential litigation. Id. The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant for intentional destruction of evidence. Id. Additionally, the defendant claimed that, as a direct result of the defendant’s destruction of the T-clamp, the plaintiff was unable to produce and/or show the T-clamp failed and caused his injuries. Id. In response to the plaintiff’s action, the defendant asked the court to dismiss the action because Kansas law did not recognize an independent offense for intentional destruction of evidence. Id. at 1179.
The main issue addressed by the court in this case was whether the court would recognize a common law action for intentional destruction of evidence. Id. At the time of the incident, the general rule regarding destruction of evidence was that absent some special relationship or duty rising by reason of an agreement, contract, statute, or other special circumstance, there was no duty to preserve possible evidence for another party to aid that other party in some future legal action against a third party. Id. Furthermore, at the time of the incident, only two courts had recognized the offense of intentional destruction of evidence. Id. at 1180. Of those two cases, the court noted that both were readily different than the present case. Id. at 1181. Both cases involved evidence that was destroyed by the opposing party in pending lawsuits to the direct benefit of such party. Id. In the present case, the court found that it would have been disadvantageous to the defendant to destroy any evidence due to the worker’s compensation that the plaintiff received. Id.
The court indicated that under present case law, the defendant had no common-law duty to preserve the T-clamp. Id. According to the court, it was fundamental that before there could be any recovery for a civil offense that there must be a violation of a duty owned by one party to the person seeking recovery. Id. In the present case, the court noted that the defendant was not a wrongdoer and had an absolute right to preserve or destroy its own property as it saw fit. Id. at 1181-82. In fact, the court stated that to place a duty upon an employer to preserve all possible physical evidence that might somehow be utilized in a third-party action by an injured employee would place an intolerable burden upon every employer. Id. at 1182.
In sum, the court concluded that absent some independent civil offense, contract agreement, voluntary assumption of duty, or special relation of the parties, the new offense of “intentional interference with a prospective civil action by spoliation of evidence” would not be recognized in Kansas. Id. at 1183.